Comedian, author and podcaster Grace Campbell is the daughter of former Labour strategist Alastair Campbell, who suffers with depression, and is an Our Time charity patron. Grace recalls the impact her dad's mental illness has had on her childhood.
If you would like to support children and young people living with parental mental illness, please donate to Our Time here: https://www.justgiving.com/ourtimeuk. To find out more about Our Time, please visit www.ourtime.org.uk/.
If you are affected by anything you hear in this podcast, there are people you can talk to for support. You can contact your GP, www.samaritans.org or www.childline.org.uk. If you are a young person, you could also talk to a teacher or other trusted adult.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: This is My Family, Mental Illness... and Me.
My name is Pamela Jenkins and I’m a researcher at the Mental Health Foundation. My mum, Irene, lived with a mental illness. There were voices only she could hear and she could quickly switch from feeling very high to very low. No one ever talked about it with me when I was young, even though I knew my mum was often unwell. When I was in my 20s, that’s when a psychiatrist told me that my mum had schizoaffective disorder. Sadly, I lost her quite recently to Covid-19 but even though she’s gone, her mental health will always be a huge part of my life.
In each of these podcasts, I’ll speak to someone else whose parent has or had a mental illness. In the UK, there are at least three million children of parents with mental illness. If you’re one, it’s really important that you know you’re not alone.
My Family, Mental Illness... and Me is a podcast series from the charity Our Time with support from the Mental Health Foundation. Our Time champions and supports children of parents with mental illness and their families. We’ve put links to more information in the show notes.
This time, I’m chatting with someone whose dad is one of the most famous faces in British politics and who is now an author and comedian in her own right.
Grace Campbell: My name is Grace Campbell. I’m a comedian. My first book, Amazing Disgrace, came out in October last year. The paperback is coming out this summer and I make loads of stupid videos for the internet as well.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Good morning, Grace. Thank you so much for coming to talk to me today. It’s really lovely to meet you. As you know, we’re here to share stories about people’s experiences of being a child of a parent with mental illness and what it’s like to grow up and how that’s impacted on your life. So I just want to open the floor up to you really initially and just say, you know, what is your experience? What do you first remember?eet when I was nine or ten in:
That just became like a sort of theme of our lives but it’s just gotten much easier from the first time of experiencing it and thinking, ‘Have I done something wrong?’ You always take things personally. I’ve got best friends and my mum who are in relationships with people with mental illness. For a period, you do just take it personally and think, ‘What is it that I’m doing wrong? Why can’t they just be happy? It must be my fault.’ I think, over time, that’s just something I’ve gotten really much more used to which has been very helpful in my personal relationships as well.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: So you feel that it’s given you some sort of... well, what do you feel it’s given you?
Grace Campbell: I think that, combined with my own mental illness, has given me a deep empathy for people. I understand that a lot of life and a lot of people’s behaviour comes down to what’s going on internally or things they haven’t processed properly. So I think that’s really what it’s given me, empathy. I remember being at secondary school and there were people who were so horrible and then I was also really horrible. I was at a girls’ school. I just remember thinking, ‘They’re probably going through a lot of shit at home.’ I just knew that from a young age because I knew what my home life was like and I understood that I was a bit of a ‘see you next Tuesday’ at school [laughter] because my home life was really chaotic and dysfunctional. I just always understand... I always try and think and when I’m angry at someone something I’ve had to teach myself is to just think, ‘What might they be going through right now that has nothing to do with you...
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely.
Grace Campbell: ...that is probably the root cause of why they’re behaving this way?’ before you go attack, attack, attack.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, it’s so easy to just be really reactive and not stop and think, ‘Actually, maybe they’ve got something going on that you can’t see.’ You said that empathy sort of translated into that thought when you were at school of, ‘Well, there might be things going on at home for these other girls.’ Did you ever talk about what was going on at home with anybody at school?
Grace Campbell: Probably when I got to sixth form, I started to. I don’t think properly. I don’t think you know how to articulate that stuff when you’re a teenager and I don’t think you should be expected to either. You are so young. I would have probably said, ‘Oh, my dad has depression,’ but would I have said how it had impacted me? No, I don’t think so.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Was there anybody that you spoke to about it regularly, at any stage, who helped at all?
Grace Campbell: Yeah, so one of my best friends, Tyler, has approved me talking about this but her mum had a drinking problem and then died when we were 14-years-old. So we had this kind of unspoken about bond. We became friends when we were eight, nine or ten-years-old. We lived on parallel roads to each other. When we were kids, we wouldn’t talk about the fact that we had dysfunction at home but we very much connected over that and very much stuck together because of it. I think when her mum died, that was a huge shock for her obviously and for me, it was the first grief of that kind I think. That then did open up a conversation with her. So I’d say she’s the person who I have processed a lot of these emotions with but even then, at the age of 14... again, this is why for people who go through serious trauma, it should just be a thing that they all have to do therapy because you don’t process those things and then you do have a breakdown at some point if you haven’t processed those things. I’ve seen it over and over again with myself and my friends. There was just a point when we all got into our early 20s and I got anxiety when I was 18 and then it was one by one, all of my friends started having panic attacks because we’d all been through really big things in our adolescence and childhood that we hadn’t dealt with.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: And you internalise it and, like you said before about not being able to articulate it, you don’t even necessarily know that that’s what is happening; that you’re not dealing with it or not talking about it. Even with that friend that you had the bond with, it was sort of an unspoken bond until her mum died. Do you think it’s because of not being able to articulate it or are there any other reasons you think you didn’t speak about it?
Grace Campbell: I think you’re honestly too young. I think when you’re a child, you’re a child and so when I was nine and I became friends with Tyler, there were obvious reasons why we both wanted to be each other’s friends. We obviously love each other and we’re still best friends today but there were circumstances which meant that we just would hang out every day after school all day. We would always play out on the street. We were together all the time. I just think, at that age, you don’t know how to turn around and say, ‘Oh, this is how I’m feeling.’ You just don’t. Obviously, it’s amazing when children do know how to do that and hopefully, my kids, when I raise them, I will teach them to be more emotionally literate in that way but that just wasn’t the circumstances of the noughties. The world has changed since then and parenting has changed since then. I just don’t think we should have been expected to be able to talk about that stuff.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, I agree. Did you ever speak to your mum and dad about it or did they ever talk to you about it openly?
Grace Campbell: Yes, definitely. I mean my dad sat us all down one day. I was the youngest and my brothers are seven and eight years older than me but I remember when that happened and he’d left Downing Street, he sat us down one day and said, ‘Look, I have this condition. It’s called depression. This is how it goes. This is how it feels.’ He described it to us and told us about what that was like. Obviously, again, that was quite hard to grasp. I actually think it’s really hard to grasp any form of mental illness unless you’ve experienced it. Until I got my own mental illness and my own disorders, I couldn’t understand what anxiety felt like. I couldn’t understand what depression felt like. I couldn’t understand what OCD felt like and then I started to experience it. Again, the empathy then comes I think from understanding exactly what that feels like.
I started having panic attacks when I was 18 and I remember describing it to my mum and she said, ‘Oh, you’re having a panic attack.’ I was like, ‘I’m on drugs. I’ve been drugged.’ That’s how it felt. I was in Paris and I genuinely felt I had been drugged and someone had spiked me with a hallucinogenic pill because I was losing my mind and it felt like everything was ending. It was just the scariest thing in the world and nothing from that moment has been more scary than that. I remember saying it to mum and she said, ‘Oh, you’re just having a panic attack,’ and I was like, ‘What the fuck is a panic attack? I don’t know what that means.’ I then spoke to my dad who has had panic attacks and he’s actually had panic attacks on live television before. He was once doing an Andrew Marr interview. I can watch it now and I can see he’s having a panic attack when I watch it but I remember when that happened I was probably at secondary school and I wouldn’t have understood what that was.
So when I started having my own things like that, I then thought, ‘Fuck, my dad has been experiencing this shit for all this time and managing to do all of the things he’s been doing; working in government and being very, very successful and hardworking.’ That’s really impressive [laughter].
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, it is because I think something that’s also not talked about enough is that living with mental illness can be managed and it’s not life-limiting. You can have a successful career and you can have a family, acknowledging it and getting that help if and when you need it. When you said about after you were nine or ten and that was your first recollection of your dad’s depression and then, in your mind, it became part of your lives, what did that look like?
Grace Campbell: I only have a vivid memory of the first experience of it. I would say after that, it just became... like now, I can sort of tell when he’s having a bout of depression and my mum definitely can and she’ll say to me, ‘He’s depressed.’ You can hear it in his voice and you can see it in his eyes. I got used to understanding that. I think the thing that I found difficult, having him as a public figure, was that he would put on this front outside the house of being fine, even though, again, you could always see it in his eyes and you could always hear it in his voice. His depression really hits his voice, so I can always tell that. But I think there was this conflict of the outside of him putting on a brave face and then the inside of what he was actually feeling. Again, I have my own struggles and have been in long-term relationships and I have experienced my partners also having that same frustration and saying, ‘But you’re fine when we go out to the pub and then at home, you’re really angry and sad or crying all the time. How can you just switch that on?’ But you can!
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and that must be hard as well when you were saying that you didn’t understand why you weren’t able to cheer him up or make him better but yet he was able to be outside the house and put that face on. It’s a very difficult thing for a child. You’re saying now you understand that but as a child, it’s about not understanding why your parent is one way at home with you and completely different outside the home with other people.
Grace Campbell: It definitely is a really confusing thing to process when you’re that age. Coming back to what I said earlier, you do just take it quite personally. I can remember him being at home and he would be lying on the sofa and very physically and emotionally depressed. There was nothing in him, essentially, with no energy, very lethargic and no enthusiasm and then he would literally go to the Sky news van that had turned up on our street. You’ll watch him on TV and he’s like a different person. That is a weird thing to go through and I know my mum took this very personally because she was his partner. She would feel very much like, ‘How come you’re fine with these people and you’re not fine with me? Also, you’re not nice.’ It is difficult and I empathise with it completely but he could be just not very nice when he was that way. He wasn’t horrible but it would just be that thing of like... you know when you’re with someone and now I’ve been that person, so I get it and I get what it’s like to be on both sides of it which is why it’s very confusing in relationships for me. I understand what that feels like but when you are that person, no one can actually help you. There are things people can do to make it better but they cannot make it go away.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah.
Grace Campbell: The really frustrating part of that is that if somebody says... and I would say this when I was a kid to my dad, ‘Oh, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you happy? What can I do to help?’ It would upset him and frustrate him because there’s nothing you can do. It’s about time, looking after yourself and waiting for the storm that you’re in to pass. I think that’s what he found difficult because I would say all of those things, obviously. ‘Oh, why are you like this? Why can’t you just cheer up?’ I was nine. Come on! Don’t cancel me but it’s true and, again, it was the noughties and we didn’t have a huge understanding then of what all of this meant. I think that would really frustrate him and make him retreat more.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: I think there hasn’t been, and still isn’t, a big enough understanding of the impact it has on the children who are witnessing and experiencing also the mental illness and that internalising... I think, certainly in my own experience, that need to try and make it go away and to help it get better. It’s a very natural thing I think for a child to want to do. It’s impossible. It’s futile. If we’re not talking to children about that and they’re living in these circumstances, then it’s very conflicting.
Grace Campbell: Yeah, I think it’s very confusing because basically, in life, I think most people, at some point, are going to go through moments of poor mental health. If they don’t, good for them but that’s very, very rare. One of my best, best, best friends has depression, PTSD and OCD and I have learnt a lot also from being her best friend because very similarly to my dad, she just goes through periods where she does just shut off and not actually want to talk to anyone because she knows that thing of like... ‘There’s nothing anyone can say and, therefore, I don’t want to feel frustrated with them. I’m just going to wait until it passes.’ That’s a really specific thing to go through and that is a more severe version of mental illness. Both of them really, really go through very bad bouts of depression and I am around that a lot and I have just learnt all of the right things to do and say. That is just about time. It’s about experience. It’s about understanding that that could be you. It’s about also having felt those things. It’s about knowing that there’s kind of no right thing that you can say. All you need to do is make them feel like you’re not going anywhere because I think the main thing... and I’ve experienced this in relationships a lot is that when I have really bad periods, I’ll get so scared that they’re going to leave me. I’ll say, ‘Why would you stay with me? I’m such a nightmare.’ That is just a really, really awful cherry on top, when you’re really in a bad way, to then think that everyone is going to leave you and you’re going to be abandoned. I think the main thing is always making people feel like you’re not leaving them.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: And you have such a unique experience that you can contribute. Like you said before, the empathy you understand and so you know where to position yourself for that person when they’re experiencing that and that’s a really positive thing to have come out of your experience. It’s also interesting as well that you can’t rationalise with yourself either. You didn’t abandon your dad. You’ve still got your relationship with your dad and yet that fear of abandonment isn’t rational.
Grace Campbell: I think it comes down to the shame that you experience when you have poor mental health and you think, ‘Why would anyone want to be with me? Why would anyone want to hang out with me? Look at me. I’m so complicated and messy. My life is messy.’ My dad felt that with my mum. You just get paranoid about the fact that... ‘God, I’m not as fun as ‘Susan’ over there who’s always fine.’ It’s that kind of thing. You just do. In life, there are people who do stay and there are people who don’t stay and I don’t blame either of those types of people but I just want people in my life that I know are going to make me feel safe and secure.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: When you talk about shame, do you recall ever experiencing that sense of shame at all as a child within the context of your dad’s mental illness?
Grace Campbell: Yes, definitely. Again, not to repeat myself but when you blame yourself, that is shame. You’re saying, ‘This is something I’m doing wrong.’ You’re making it personally about you. I’ve just written a whole funny book about it but one of the ways I describe it is like it’s a feeling where you blame yourself for something you haven’t done, basically: whether it’s about your body, that’s the world telling you that your body isn’t right; whether it’s about sex and relationships, that’s because other people have told you what you’re doing is shameful. It isn’t actually shameful. I think there are things you should be ashamed of like if you kill someone, or you rape someone, or if you rob people. That is a shameful thing. I think women, especially, are offloaded so much unnecessary shame that doesn’t actually belong with us but belongs with society.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: No, I can completely relate to that with my mum. It was my mum that had mental illness or schizoaffective disorder. She had schizophrenia and bipolar and it was a good old mix of the two. It was that sense of shame but I think, for me, the shame still lives with me but it’s sort of mutated from a shame at the time, akin to what you’re describing, to a shame now where I feel like I wish I had not been so ashamed [laughter]. It’s not ashamed. It’s a very difficult one, I suppose, to describe. I think it’s quite distinct for different people and that feeling can be quite different.
Grace Campbell: Did you have shame about telling other people outside of your family life?
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yes, I did and also other people seeing. My mum’s illness was very outwardly presenting and so she would talk to herself and laugh. She could sometimes be volatile but not ever with me. I was honestly sometimes just mortified, so that was the shame that I felt. It was the shame that my mum was behaving the way that she was behaving and then now I feel shame because I was mortified by her. That makes me feel terrible because, as an adult now, I can look back and be more rational about it. It’s exactly what you said. Children can’t articulate these things and aren’t expected to but then nobody spoke to me about it, so...
Grace Campbell: Well, I know but you shouldn’t also still carry that shame because, again, that is a normal reaction to have as someone who doesn’t have a complex understanding of what mental illness is. My uncle, who has sadly now passed away, had paranoid schizophrenia. He was the best person in the entire world. Literally, he was the person that, in my life, I could bring anyone back to and he was just the best, the most fun and the biggest character but he would talk to himself all the time. I remember before he died, we did Christmas together and there were loads of us sitting around the table and he was talking to himself and it was just normal. It was normalised because, by that point, we understood what that had become. But I remember, as a child, being like, ‘What is going on? This is just bizarre.’ You watched films and some of the portrayals of that kind of mental illness were just really unhelpful and harmful.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and adds to you not wanting to say, or talk about it, or let anybody know.
Grace Campbell: And the language... like I remember being at school and people would be like, ‘Oh my god, the weather today is so schizophrenic.’ I would be like, ‘That’s actually not even an accurate use of that word.’ I would always call that out. ‘Oh my god, she’s so bipolar.’ My dad taught me, from a really young age, that you just cannot say stuff like that because it’s a misinterpretation of what that actually is. Coming back to what you said earlier, you can very much manage your mental illness. Donald, my uncle, had a great job. He was a bagpipe player. He lived with his mental illness. It did defeat him in the end really, really tragically but he lived a life with mental illness and he lived a full life. That’s just such a misconception of those types of mental illnesses; that it ruins your life. You just have to get on with it, basically.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and I completely agree with you about the language. I think that’s an issue that really needs to be addressed with people using just words like ‘psycho’ and ‘crazy’. It’s obviously just what people do and they’re not thinking about it but there are times when I’ll be in conversation with someone and they’ll just drop that in and I find it quite offensive. It contributes to that fear and that shame of actually talking and for a child, who has a parent with mental illness, that language contributes to that shame.
This is something I talk about a lot which is one of my earliest memories. Whenever my mum read me a bedtime story, I always say there were three of us in the room because I’ve spent so much of the time trying to say to her, ‘Can you stop laughing, Mum? Stop talking. Who are you talking to? Can you read the story?’ She’d be away, and then she would read a couple of lines, and then she’d be off again but that was just what I knew. I didn’t realise that that wasn’t just how it was and nobody ever said anything about it. It’s only when you get a bit older and you start to think, ‘Actually, I don’t know if I want my friends coming over to stay because that’s not how their mum and dad behave.’ So it sort of then becomes secretive and then you’re leading two separate lives. That’s why I asked you before about when you were at school and whether you talked about it. It’s just really interesting that sort of juncture between the life outside of home and then the life inside the house. That’s why I wondered how much you really spoke about it with other people.
Grace Campbell: Yeah, and what’s so difficult in your situation is if somebody just addressed it when you were a child and at some point, just said, ‘By the way, this is what your mum is going through. It’s normal. This is her condition,’ that then alleviates a lot of the shame. It’s that easy. It’s someone saying to you, ‘Yeah, my dad has that as well,’ to just make you feel like you’re not the only person in the world going through that.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely. Nobody really knows how to have this conversation with children about what’s going on with the mental health of their parents and it’s still a problem.
Grace Campbell: I know and I do hope with our generations to come and when I have children, I will address with them, from a young age, what I’m going through and what their father or whoever I end up having babies with is also going through because basically, everyone, in a way, in life is going through something at some time all the time. Growing up, I was a witness to so many different types of dysfunctional families and not just my own. Every single family is dysfunctional in a way. Every single family is keeping stuff inside the house versus outside the house. Those are just things that you have to process and those are just things you have to communicate to children. I just hope when we have kids that that does start to change because we teach our kids how to be emotionally fluent.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, absolutely.
Grace Campbell: Coming back to that experience of watching my dad outside the house being so happy, now I think about that sometimes and I’ve gone through really bad periods but I’ll always be fine on Instagram.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: It’s almost like a safe space, which is funny, where you can have this outwardly presenting really great life. Just thinking about children now who have got a parent with mental illness, who are on Facebook, and then like you said about showing great family lives, they’re seeing their friends putting up pictures of their family. Again, it’s just feeding into that sense of shame or wanting, like a desire to want to have a different life at home than the one that you’ve got. I’m so pleased that Facebook, Instagram and everything didn’t exist when I was young. I just don’t think I would have coped. I’ve got two little boys and I fear for them when it gets to that stage. The older one will be eight next week actually but he’s been struggling a wee bit with anxiety. It was always in the back of my mind that the older one really, really feels things very deeply. He’s had quite severe anxiety actually over the last few months because of Covid. My mum passed away in February and that really hit him hard. I can recognise so much of that anxiety because I had it when I was young. I now realise, because of my experience with my mum, I was just anxious about her all the time. So I find myself thinking now, ‘Am I behaving in ways that are bringing out that anxiety for him? Is it me?’ I still struggle with anxiety sometimes but not anything like I did when I was young and when I was a teenager. As far as I’m aware, he doesn’t see that. He’s not seen me necessarily struggling with my mental health but then I don’t know. Has he? Obviously, he could have anxiety for a number of reasons and there are many reasons, like I just mentioned, but he probably has it. In my mind, there’s just that permanent thought about my mum. Obviously, she had a very severe and enduring mental illness and that was an acute diagnosis but I think, ‘Oh gosh! Is it something in him and in me, that anxiety, that’s just there or is there something I could do to stop it?’
Grace Campbell: Well, it’s such a fear. That’s a really normal fear. I remember when I had a breakdown when I was 18, I thought, ‘Oh my god. I’m going to be permanently mentally ill just like my dad and just like my uncle.’ There are lots of people in my family, including my brother. We’re a very mentally ill family. I thought, ‘I’m going to pass it down and it’s going to be a theme of my whole life.’ Probably, you’ll know more than me but I think it is a complicated thing to work out because I don’t think it’s necessarily genetic but I think it’s the way you’re raised and how you experience things. Like you said, your son is really sensitive and he feels things. That’s probably a lot down to his natural disposition as a human because people are different and people feel and process things in different ways. He just is that way, to some extent, and then probably he is reactive because we all are and we all pick up from the environments that we’re in but that’s also not a bad thing. If that is the case and he is going to then have anxiety, that’s something that he’ll live with and he’ll probably be a much more empathetic and understanding person because of it.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely.
Grace Campbell: It’s not going to make him a bad person. It’s just going to mean that he understands things in a much more complex and nuanced way and that’s a good thing, despite potential struggles.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, I completely agree with you a hundred per cent. You talked about it as well and being more empathetic because of your experience. I think it builds resilience. I certainly feel stronger and more of an independent person because of things that have happened in the past. So whilst you wouldn’t wish it on your children, because obviously, you want them never to have to struggle in that way, there is a silver lining there to be found and the outcome doesn’t have to be a bad one. Oh god, I’m all about the clichés today – you can make lemonade. Do you think the experience with your father impacted later on your mental health?
Grace Campbell: Absolutely, yeah. I think you don’t process enough when you’re young and so then it does impact you in your later life. I definitely then had to deal with the experiences of my children when I was old enough to be capable of doing that, basically. That’s why it’s all about therapy, therapy, therapy. I wish everyone in the world could access therapy because we all have things that we haven’t dealt with and, again, that’s every single person. Obviously, some people like ‘Susan’ do not and good for them but in my experience, everyone I’ve ever been in a relationship with and all of my best friends, they’ve all got stuff that they could talk out.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Wouldn’t it be great if kids could have access to counselling or therapy from a young age, regardless of whether they’ve got a parent at home with a mental illness but particularly so if they do... just to have that access to an external objective person who they can then talk their feelings through with? That’s so important for children.
Grace Campbell: It’s so important and actually, that would be amazing in a dream world but unfortunately, we’re not there yet. So I think it’s just about everyone taking responsibility for anything that they can do to positively impact kids. If you are friends with a person who’s a parent and you can see that your friend is struggling and they have children, you step in. Me and my friends have this kind of village vibe and when we all start to have children, we will all pick up and help each other when we can because that’s just the way that we’ve functioned, I guess and whenever someone is going through something bad, we all turn up to help them.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: That’s really lucky to have that because it takes a village... that whole idea. That doesn’t really exist so much anymore and if you can have that when you start to have your own family and with your friends, who are effectively your family, that’s a really, really special place to be. Gosh, that’s really, really good.
Grace Campbell: The thing I’ve really worked out with my friends, which took a lot of work and effort for all of us, is that I have friendships that I know that no matter how much of a prick I am, they aren’t going to go anywhere because we are indebted to each other. Yeah, it’s security and it’s a really nice feeling to know that but it wasn’t something that just happened. It was something that I really did decide and thought, ‘This is going to be as important to me as any relationship with a man.’
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Do you think that came from what happened with your dad?
Grace Campbell: I think so. A lot of my anxiety when I was younger was about my parents dying and I think a lot of that came from the way that my dad was and seeing him in such bad ways. I was really conscious that they were going to die one day and I was obsessed with death. If I outlive them, I will live in a world without them and I depend on them so much and I’m so lucky to have parents that I can depend on who are really, really amazing parents now. When they were working in politics, they weren’t the most present people [laughter] but I definitely think that’s what I’ve tried to create in my friendships.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Other children, who have a parent with a mental illness, don’t necessarily have that unconditional love or support and sometimes they don’t live with their parents as they’re growing up, so having that is so important. Despite that, I guess, what’s really interesting is that when you talk about your home life growing up with your dad’s mental illness is that, regardless of circumstances sometimes, that experience for a child of having a parent with a mental illness can be very traumatic. It’s about how we make that situation less traumatic and less chaotic. It sounds like you’ve got a really good plan if anything were to come up with yourself or a friend where you needed help in that situation, it wouldn’t necessarily be so traumatic for the child because you’ve got each other and it’s open and it’s spoken about.
Grace Campbell: Yeah, I think it’s about normalisation. I would be really good and if we were out, I’d say, ‘I have to leave as I’m feeling so anxious. I think I’m going to have a panic attack,’ rather than just saying, ‘I have to go,’ and making up some bullshit reason. Once you normalise it and once you speak about it, it becomes so much easier. You’re carrying that thing together.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, absolutely and I think there are some people who, because it isn’t spoken about or they don’t speak about it, might experience these things and not know what it is. If it was more out there and we were speaking about it more, then recognising the symptoms would also be a lot easier. You wouldn’t think, ‘Gosh, I’m having a panic attack. I’m going to die.’ You would know that it was a panic attack and that it would pass.
Grace Campbell: Well, for anyone listening to this, the main thing I always say to people and I always need people to say to me when I’m in the midst of it is, ‘It will pass. It feels like it’s going to never end but it will pass. You’ll then be out of it and you won’t even remember what it felt like.’
Dr Pamela Jenkins: What do you think when you look back at that period when you were young between nine and 18 when you were at home with your dad and he wasn’t well at times? Do you still remember the pain or those feelings you had?
Grace Campbell: Yes, definitely but I think I’ve just processed it now and I think I’ve processed the fact that I’ll probably have anxiety on and off throughout my life. I’ve accepted that. I definitely think back about my childhood and think, ‘God, there were things about that that were really shit,’ but I’ve accepted it now because I’ve processed it and I’ve therapised. If I hadn’t done that, then I probably wouldn’t be sitting here saying all of this stuff.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Your mental illness and your father’s mental illness doesn’t define you and it doesn’t define him. It’s just there and it’s something that’s dealt with and part of you both are but it’s not your whole identity. I think that’s something that’s really important for people to remember, especially children now. Their parents’ mental illness doesn’t define them and it doesn’t define the child. It’s just difficult to know that sometimes when you’re young.
Grace Campbell: I think so, yeah. I think that’s just a part of the journey. You just get much better at dealing with it.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and it is a journey. That’s a good way of describing it... and different journeys for different people, depending on circumstances and depending on the mental illness but I think it’s just so great that you’ve been here speaking about yours. I think it’s so important to just hear as many different experiences as we can to know what’s going on and to sort of create this community around it. People then know they’re not on their own. Grace, thank you so much for coming to talk to me today. It’s been so wonderful to hear your story and to hear about your experience. I’m sure everybody will enjoy listening to it and I really can’t thank you enough.
Grace Campbell: Thank you for having me. I’ve loved it.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Grace Campbell. Thank you so much to her for taking time to chat with me. Grace’s book is called Amazing Disgrace and she is @gracecambpell on Twitter.act your GP, or Samaritans on:
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